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The State of Working America

The State of Working America

Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 12
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 472
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  • Book Info
    The State of Working America
    Book Description:

    Since 1988, The State of Working America has provided a comprehensive answer to a question newly in vogue in this age of Occupy Wall Street: To what extent has overall economic growth translated into rising living standards for the vast majority of American workers and their families? In the 12th edition, Lawrence Mishel, Josh Bivens, Elise Gould, and Heidi Shierholz analyze a trove of data on income, jobs, mobility, poverty, wages, and wealth to demonstrate that rising economic inequality over the past three decades has decoupled overall economic growth from growth in the living standards of the vast majority.

    The new edition of The State of Working America also expands on this analysis of American living standards, most notably by placing the Great Recession in historical context. The severe economic downturn that began in December 2007 came on the heels of a historically weak recovery following the 2001 recession, a recovery that saw many measures of living standards stagnate. The authors view the past decade as "lost" in terms of living standards growth, and warn that millions of American households face another decade of lost opportunity.

    Especially troubling, the authors stress, is that while overall economic performance in the decades before the Great Recession was more than sufficient to broadly raise living standards, broad-based growth was blocked by rising inequality driven largely by policy choices. A determinedly data-driven narrative, The State of Working America remains the most comprehensive resource about the economic experience of working Americans.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6623-6
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  3. Documentation and methodology
    (pp. 1-4)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Overview: Policy-driven inequality blocks living-standards growth for low- and middle-income Americans
    (pp. 5-52)

    Like its predecessors, this edition of The State of Working America digs deeply into a broad range of data to answer a basic question that headline numbers on gross domestic product, inflation, stock indices, productivity, and other metrics can’t wholly answer: “How well has the American economy worked to provide acceptable growth in living standards for most households?”

    According to the data, the short answer is, “not well at all.” The past 10 years have been a “lost decade” of wage and income growth for most American families. A quarter century of wage stagnation and slow income growth preceded this...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Income: Already a ‘lost decade’
    (pp. 53-138)

    Income is at the core of living standards for American families and households. Income received from work, returns on investments, and/or government benefits is what enables families and households to secure food and shelter, cover unexpected costs (such as for hospital stays or roof repairs), withstand periods of joblessness, save for children’s education, and ensure a comfortable retirement.

    Three key issues arise when analyzing the trajectory of American incomes in recent decades: the large cost inflicted by the Great Recession on American incomes and the long shadow it is likely to cast on income growth in the next decade, the...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Mobility: Not offsetting growing inequality
    (pp. 139-172)

    The State of Working America documents growing economic inequality in the United States over the last few decades. Due to this rise in inequality, increases in living standards for most American families have lagged overall economic growth.

    For many, these highly troubling developments could arguably be somewhat mitigated by increased economic mobility. If American families were regularly climbing up and down the income ladder even as the ladder’s rungs grow farther apart, the historically high level of economic inequality may be of less concern.

    In fact, some observers argue that inequality is not such a serious problem, as everyone has...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Wages: The top, and very top, outpace the rest
    (pp. 173-320)

    Wage trends are the driving force behind trends in income growth and income inequality; wages and salaries constitute about three-fourths of total family income, and more than three-fourths of income of families in the broad middle class. Given the foundational nature of wages, it is discouraging that real hourly compensation (wages and benefits) of the median worker rose just 10.7 percent between 1973 and 2011. Most of this growth occurred in the late 1990s wage boom, and once the boom subsided by 2002 and 2003 real wages and compensation stagnated for most workers—college graduates and high school graduates alike....

  8. CHAPTER 5 Jobs: A function of demand
    (pp. 321-374)

    Employment is the foundation of family income and economic well-being for the vast majority of households that are not of retirement age. Even retired households need a strong past work history to enjoy economic security. It is through work that families have income to meet their material needs. Thus, whether the labor market is able to provide employment for willing workers is a key determinant of living standards.

    Healthy job growth is growth that provides employment for all willing workers in a timely fashion. As we show, employment trends are driven by trends in aggregate demand (the total demand for...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Wealth: Unrelenting disparities
    (pp. 375-418)

    Preceding chapters have focused on what individuals and families bring in over a given time period, whether wages earned hourly or income received in a year. This chapter analyzes wealth. A family’s (or individual’s) wealth, or net worth, is the sum of assets, such as a home, bank account balances, stock holdings, and retirement funds (such as 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts), minus liabilities, such as mortgages, credit card balances, outstanding medical bills, student loans, and other debts, at a point in time. As with wages and other income, wealth is a key determinant of a family’s standard of...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Poverty: The Great Recession adds injury to insult
    (pp. 419-460)

    This book offers a detailed discussion of rising economic inequality as evident in growing inequality of wages, incomes, and wealth in America. This growing inequality, which helps explain stagnant income growth for most households for more than three decades, has also been a critical factor at the bottom of the income distribution. As income inequality increases, poverty becomes less responsive to overall growth because too little of that growth reaches individuals and families at the lower end of the income scale.

    Before the mid-1970s, U.S. economic growth was associated with falling poverty rates (measured as the share of the population...

  11. Appendix A: CPS income measurement
    (pp. 461-464)
  12. Appendix B: Wage measurement
    (pp. 465-474)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 475-488)
  14. Index
    (pp. 489-503)
  15. About EPI
    (pp. 504-504)
  16. About the authors
    (pp. 505-506)